the fifth of the seven children of Marion and Jennie Simpson. His father was a porter for a railroad, and later read water meters for a living; there is no record of his mother working outside the home.
Simpson was kept out of school until 5th grade by repeated bouts with diphtheria and rheumatic fever. He was tutored by his sisters and brothers, and when physically able, spent a good deal of time at the Diamond Jenkins orphanage. He still had his family, but Jenkins was a center of music, particularly jazz, where many residents developing their skills turned out to be future professionals, including